Activists have expressed outrage at South Africa’s decision to stop a roll-out of anti-Aids drugs for children.
Activists have expressed outrage at South Africa’s decision to stop a roll-out of anti-Aids drugs for children. The radical Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) accused the authorities of putting people’s lives at risk. The health department is advising hospitals not to enrol new children on the programme in case there are not enough drugs for them to continue. Five million South Africans are HIV-positive and the government has often been accused of not doing enough. “We urge the government not to put us in the position to take it to court again,” said TAC’s head Zackie Achmat. The TAC has taken legal action on several occasions to get the government to distribute anti-retroviral drugs. Huge demand In April, weeks before general elections, the government started to distribute the drugs to Aids patients in public hospitals. The authorities said some 50,000 people would get the drugs within 12 months, rising to 1.4m by 2009. Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers The health department blames the pharmaceutical industry for failing to cope with the demand for drugs, which need to be supplied without interruption once the treatment is started. “Demand for the anti-retrovirals far outstrips supply,” Dr Nono Simelela, the head of the department’s HIV unit, told Johannesburg’s Star newspaper. She said that adults too had been placed on waiting lists for the drugs, while the government assessed the companies’ production capacity. “This is important, because once you start treatment, you can’t afford to miss your medication for a single day,” she said. Dr Simelela also said that the children’s formula – tablets or a syrup – must be used within a short time of being manufactured. ‘Sinking ship’ But the deputy chairman of the National Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, Stavros Nicolaru, argued the government had been unable to provide the industry with an accurate estimate of the supply needed. “If you say you need 10,000 anti-retrovirals next week, you will not get them because the process takes time,” he told the paper. TAC supported this view. “Our own investigations show that both the generic manufacturers and the brand-name pharmaceutical companies have sufficient stock supplies,” Zackie Achmat said. “The national ministry and Dr Simelela, who is deserting a sinking ship, is placing the lives of children and people living with HIV at risk by playing games and manufacturing scarcity where none exists. “[They] have been completely derelict in procuring the medicines.” (Source: BBC Health News, June 2004)